Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party

Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party/Freedom Democratic Party
ChairpersonLawrence Guyot[1]
Vice ChairpersonFannie Lou Hamer
Founded1964 (1964)
Dissolved1968 (1968)
Merged intoMississippi Democratic Party
HeadquartersJackson, Mississippi
Social democracy
Political positionCenter-left
National affiliationDemocratic Party
Colors     Blue

The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), also referred to as the Freedom Democratic Party, was an American political party created in 1964 as a branch of the populist Freedom Democratic organization in the state of Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement. It was organized by African Americans and whites from Mississippi to challenge the established power of the Mississippi Democratic Party, which at the time allowed participation only by whites, when African-Americans made up 40% of the state population.


For generations, African Americans had endured widespread denial of their voting rights in Mississippi, which used poll taxes, literacy tests and comprehension tests administered by white agents,[vague]

and other means[vague] to prevent blacks from registering and thus from voting. They had been nearly excluded[vague] from the political system since 1890 by passage that year, by white Democrats, of a new state constitution incorporating these devices, and by the practices of the ruling white Democrats in the decades since. Participation[vague] in the state Democratic Party was limited to whites. Starting in 1961, SNCC and COFO had waged campaigns to register black voters; they often encountered violent[vague] opposition including activists being beaten, and were not able to register many[vague] African American voters.

The founding Party members were Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, and Robert Parris Moses, all residents[vague] of Mississippi.

In June 1963, African Americans attempted to cast votes in the Mississippi primary election but were prevented from doing so. This contest to determine Democratic candidates was essentially the only competitive race, as the state was a one-party jurisdiction. Unable to vote in the official election, they organized an alternative "Freedom Ballot" for an election to take place at the same time as the scheduled November voting. With this election seen as a protest action to dramatize the denial of their constitutional voting rights, close to 80,000 people cast freedom ballots for an integrated slate of candidates.Cite error: A <ref> tag is missing the closing </ref> (see the help page).

On August 6, 1964, the MFDP held a statewide convention before attending the DNC; 2,500 people showed up at the Masonic Temple. They decided to take the party to the national credentials committee and attempt to be seated as the delegation from Mississippi. Joseph Rauh, the MFDP legal counsel and a foremost civil liberties attorney, spoke at the convention. He said that the MFDP was the only party in the state loyal to the national Democratic Party and that its chances of success were excellent.

Ella Baker was the keynote speaker at the state convention. She did not deliver the kind of address that the people were expecting on voting and rights but made a statement about society:

I'm not trying to make you feel good. We have to know what we are dealing with and we can't deal with things just because we feel we ought to have our rights. We have to deal with them on the basis of knowledge that we gain ... through sending our children through certain kinds of courses, through sitting down and reading at night instead of spending our time at the television and radio just listening to what's on. But we must spend our time reading some of things that help us to understand this South we live in.[2]

The state convention gave the MFDP confidence in their ability to effect change on the national level. They elected Fannie Lou Hamer, E.W. Steptoe, Winson Hudson, Hazel Palmer, Victoria Gray, Rev. Ed King, Aaron Henry and Annie Devine as electors from the state to the national convention. The day after the state convention, James Chaney was buried in his hometown of Meridian, Mississippi. Dave Dennis gave an impassioned speech about the loss of this young man.

Those are the people who don't care. ... That includes the President on down to the governor of the state of Mississippi ... I blame the people in Washington D.C., and on down in the state of Mississippi for what happened just as much as I blame those who pulled the trigger. ... He's got his freedom, and we're still fighting for ours.[3]

In the face of unrelenting violence and economic retaliation by the White Citizens Council, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, and other opponents, the MFDP held local caucuses, county assemblies, and a statewide convention (as prescribed by Democratic Party rules) to elect 68 delegates (including four whites) to the 1964 Democratic National Convention scheduled for Atlantic City, New Jersey in August.

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